Permaculture Design in Local Government

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One problem with trying to apply permaculture design to Local Government systems change, is that there are so many clients. When I was completing my Permaculture Design Certificate last year, most of the case studies we used had one main client. Plenty of stakeholders, yes. But one client. In some of the examples the client was ‘me’. Which made the consultation, observation, and specification of design a lot easier.

Shifting into a local government context:

  • Fact: Most systems changes or service redesigns start as ideas thought up by managers.
  • Fact: Most ideas being thought up at the moment in public services involve trying to save money.

So, who is the client here?

  • We have elected politicians; the leaders of the Council and decision makers… they provide vision and direction and are the client of any change process.
  • Senior execs and managers certainly are a client, working out how to execute the plans and decisions that the politicians make.
  • So are the teams that deliver the work, undergo and ultimately feel the effects of any systems change.
  • And so are the service users who really, REALLY are the most important client

The top down structure of that list is there to demonstrate a more subtle point; it’s arguable that politicians represent the desires and needs of the public / communities that elect them, therefore creating a kind of closed loop of Clients. But sometimes that loop is broken or the communication does not flow so well…

So from a permaculture design perspective when we would normally start by identifying who the client is before coming up with even the faintest notion of an idea for change, that in itself can be quite a challenge in Local Government. Not insurmountable but complex and requiring a lot of energy input at the beginning and again and again. It is a problem to solve: where to start with systems change?

In practice for me, this has meant moving through flowing spirals of work rather than linear project timelines. Survey and Analysis stages of a design need to be revisited over and over as new information and requirements are fed into the process. I think (and I am no expert) this has a parallel with AGILE more than PRINCE2 or MSP. It certainly feels a better fit from a permaculture perspective. The process is iterative. Even from a Requirements point of view (rather than client Requirements being very fixed and only alterable via the strictest of change control processes).

I guess the point of this post is to say that in local government there are Clients everywhere. As an officer trying to execute the plans or ideas, my job is to ensure that those client requirements are met to the best of my abilities. For me the starting point of any redesign should always be the end user of a service. They should provide the user experience (UX) desired or required in order to inform any process. Tension appears when the user experience doesn’t match the requirements of the decision makers.

Sometimes, conflict can arise out of there being just too many identifiable clients all with differing needs and desires and a difficulty in public services can come from a need to take more money and resources out of the system, which is exactly what a lot of our customers don’t want. The skill is in balancing all of these factors and creating the right conditions for change to happen – finding the opportunities between the gaps and at the edges…

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Digital Catapult Brighton: Placemaking

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Last night in the hot, hot city, a happening happened. A taster event for the Digital Catapult Centre Brighton to open up a discussion on digital technology, innovation, art, culture, design and #placemaking.

Here’s a copy of the programme:

I found it really thought provoking. Especially the stuff from Peter Passaro on data and how it could be used to support social change; creating a better city, a better place for everyone to live in. And there was something visionary about a city data centre which everyone (yes everyone!) put their data into that was ‘owned’ by the people of Brighton and Hove.

It made me reflect on what I was doing at this event. I’m no tech expert. I don’t work in the sector. I am an unlikely candidate for catapulting!

But there is something in all of this that fascinates me. A belief that technology can support the building of communities and the ‘rehumanisation’ of work and play.

In some circles there’s a pervasive feeling that technology is going to ‘dehumanise’ work, eventually taking over people’s jobs – and that in a dark future, the robots will assume control and humans will become ‘redundant’.

I don’t think this way. I believe if we ethically harness the power of digital technology we can do some amazing things to support communities to be healthier, happier and more resilient and self sustaining. I want to support the tech sector to help the public and voluntary sectors make that social change happen and the presentations we saw inspired me to continue on that journey.

What I heard from Liz was that digital technology not only has value as a medium for creating art but also that there is art to be found in the collection of ‘people and place data’ – beauty in a 3G signal!

I also loved Ava’s answer to the audience question about the Screens In The Wild project: “Do we really need more screens?”, which was simply “No!” – a Zen Slap moment of realisation that what we were learning about here, was research and development in action; a design process – not a market product…

And so this event came with a warning, which was nicely picked up by Jenny Lloyd in her opening presentation: all design should be informed by and start with User Experience (UX). People first, right? Without user experience informing the show, the tail of technology wags the dog of design… and we end up with a dog’s dinner of a development.

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Getting Started with #NoEmail (Part 1) – “Accept You Have a Problem!”

Rehab-Clinic

Email is an addiction. Not necessarily yours, but society’s.

The user (society or you) needs to have a certain amount of it just to maintain a normal life. Taking email away from the user would cause a big reaction. Perhaps it could be perceived as harmful to withdraw from its use (to you, your organisation or society’s wellbeing). After all, how could society, or business, or you, function effectively without using it? Work just wouldn’t get done, right?

And like all addictions, some people and businesses over-use emails. It becomes a serious habit. The daily activity of an organisation (or you) becomes based around the need to get work done by processing more and more emails. And the processes an organisation uses get built around the email functionality so that authorisation, approval, consent checking, collaboration, audit trails, commendation, networking, project management and so on, all get hooked into the email loop.

Nothing, but nothing happens without email. And while no organisation would openly admit to running their business via email, secretly, behind closed doors, this is what’s happening all over the world.

Now, I’m not saying email is as bad for your health as some very addictive substances and I’m not using the analogy in order to belittle the plight of those who are addicted to them. I use it to demonstrate a point. There are parallels in email use to addictive behaviours and the results are not good, for you or your business. And like most (if not all) addictions, beating it starts with accepting that there is a problem.

So let’s try out a few things that could potentially be accepted!..

  • Accept that email has all kinds of inherent problems that you know are driving you just a little off the rails.. that there’s too much of it. That your organisation actually employs people to manage it on your, or others’ behalf. That you don’t always get a response. That you spend an inordinate amount of time processing it.
  • Accept that it interrupts your day and demands your attention when you’d rather be doing Something Else. When it would be better and more productive for you to be doing Something Else. And that sometimes you feel like you never get to the Something Else because you’re too busy managing your Inbox.
  • Accept that in some way, email is a crutch for you. As your Inbox fills up it somehow influences you and tells you what to do and when to do it… and this sometimes feels nice. There’s some enjoyment in the methodical process of keeping your inbox organised; reading, filing, deleting, forwarding, replying, flagging, task creation… and again, and again and again. The structure of the process is like a comfy chair. It keeps you nice and secure. You know exactly what you’re doing with email – its management requires adherance to a strict set of rules, cultural practices and norms which everybody appears to play by. Work happens.
  • Accept also, that there are other ways to get work done, which might actually be better for you and your organisation, if only you could tip the balance…

There. That wasn’t so hard. So, if you feel comfortable enough, why not try on these acceptances for size!…

  • Accept that when you get back from holiday, you secretly enjoy bragging about how many emails you received while you were away. In fact, a day catching up on emails is far easier than talking to anyone or doing any real work. You kinda like the fact you don’t have to ‘think’ too hard on your first day back.
  • Accept that email is a perfect way to keep secrets from others and you like to use this to keep certain people in their place by BCC-ing some and not others and CC-ing others and not some, and putting a few special people in the ‘To’ field and hundreds (if not thousands) of your colleagues in a field somewhere far, far away, because they’re not included at all; because they weren’t important enough to receive the information in this beautifully crafted email you’re sending.
  • Accept that email is a perfect way for you to play out your insecurities; because it would not be right if there was no audit trail of the conversation you just had. Because you don’t trust that people will do what you asked and you don’t trust yourself to remember what was said. And, like I nearly dared to say, you are an insecure human being.
  • Accept that you delegate tasks by email and that this probably doesn’t work that well. No one ever trained you to delegate by email – but you do it all the time, because if you do it buys you more time; because hot damn you can do without actually progressing that piece of work ‘today‘ (and you know the recipient is on leave and this issue will park just fine until they get back).
  • Accept that you really really enjoy putting a long technical explanatory email together that you’re going to have to send to a lot of people and that you often think this is the best way to communicate your idea or plan to more than five people rather than phone them individually or set up a meeting, cause they’re expensive time wasting methods… right?
  • Accept that you don’t actually want to speak to the other people because sometimes you’re a bit of an introvert and email feels easier to get your thoughts down than shooting from the hip in a phone or face to face conversation.

Phew. I feel quite exhausted.

Of course, I’m not really talking about you. These are all things which I accepted for myself. Perhaps some will ring true for you, perhaps not (I’d be interested to know!). Either way, chances are if you got this far in this post, then something has sparked your interest.

Something has got you to the end of this without giving up and that’s because you know there’s something rotten in the state of our communication.

And the only person who can do anything about it – is YOU!

 

This post was reproduced as an excerpt from an original and much longer post called 10 Top Tips To Slay The Email Beast

Getting Started with #NoEmail – 10 Top Tips To Slay The Email Beast

Getting-Started-with-a-Capability-Model

If you’re going to coach the swimming team, at some point you’re going to have to get in the water

The above quote is from the person who coined the phrase “No-Email” back in… the day. Seriously, you’ll have to do your own research if you want to know exactly when #NoEmail was started. Or ask him, his name is Paul Jones. ‘The Real Paul Jones’ in fact and you can find him on the internet in various places – he blogs here and tweets here and you can listen to him being a real life human being and talking about his #NoEmail journey here:

Can you really get results through #NoEmail?

Paul and other good folk I’ve been hanging out with online, have been inspiring me to practice methods of reducing my use and dependence on email. I’ve been experiencing the benefits of this and blogging about my journey towards a Life Without Email in a couple of previous posts here and here.

The benefits as I see them are more than the transactional / statistical evidence that my email activity has reduced; it’s more about the quality of interactions that I now feel I’m having with colleagues has changed – and the amount of time I have available to do work that I think of as ‘real work’ has increased.

But for those statisticians out there, you’re welcome to scrutinise my results (and ask questions of course). I’d suggest you try to avoid comparing yourself to my average ‘numbers’ of Sent emails and thinking:

‘wow, he has never really had a problem – I send like, 200 emails a day!’

or conversely:

“wow, he hasn’t made any progress at all; I send way less than that and I’m not even trying!’

The point is, it’s going down

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How to get started

The thing that finally triggered me into getting started in earnest, was Paul’s comment above. I think I had been moaning about email for so long I’d disengaged with the part of myself that realised I could take action.

The story I had been telling myself was that it was “too hard”; that there was “no point when everyone else uses email anyway”; and “how the hell am I going to have any influence in changing the behaviours of 5000+ employees in my email soaked organisation, huh?”

Then I read Paul’s quote. And I realised I didn’t have to influence the behaviour of 5000 people. I just had to influence my own.

As the title of this post promises, I’m going to open up a list of my Top Ten Tips to help you get started with a #NoEmail approach and an easier and better life at work. I’m going to delve into the detail of each Tip in future posts, starting with No. 1 in this post…

I have to admit these ideas are not all mine – all of them have been tried and tested by others who have inspired me and influenced me, like Paul Jones, Luis Suarez and Claire Burge, to name but a few.

But the ‘list’ is something I’ve conjured up. It came out of a desire to note down the things that I tried out first and really helped me get a handle on what I could actively, practically do, without relying on anyone else to change. This, for me, is the most important thing. If I’d waited around for the conditions to be perfect to make a behaviour change, I could have waited forever.

It is that simple… one email at a time, I can change how I work. And when I change the way i work, I’m changing the way other people work with me. So, so simple. A ‘Zen Slap‘ moment.

So, how to get in the water…

  1. Accept You Have A Problem

  2. Unsubscribe! (from ‘Content Bombs’)

  3. Stop Sending Emails

  4. Stop Checking for Emails

  5. Start Conversations In Other Worlds

  6. “Email is where knowledge goes to die” (or: Stop Filing Everything)

  7. Reduce your BACN

  8. Stop Reacting, Start Responding

  9. Help Others With Their Work

  10. Shout “NoEmail” from the hilltops!

And, as promised, I’m going to start this series with unpacking…

Number 1: Accept You Have A Problem! 

Rehab-Clinic

Email is an addiction. Not necessarily yours, but society’s.

The user (society or you) needs to have a certain amount of it just to maintain a normal life. Taking email away from the user would cause a big reaction. Perhaps it could be perceived as harmful to withdraw from its use (to you, your organisation or society’s wellbeing). After all, how could society, or business, or you, function effectively without using it? Work just wouldn’t get done, right?

And like all addictions, some people and businesses over-use emails. It becomes a serious habit. The daily activity of an organisation (or you) becomes based around the need to get work done by processing more and more emails. And the processes an organisation uses get built around the email functionality so that authorisation, approval, consent checking, collaboration, audit trails, commendation, networking, project management and so on, all get hooked into the email loop.

Nothing, but nothing happens without email. And while no organisation would openly admit to running their business via email, secretly, behind closed doors, this is what’s happening all over the world.

Now, I’m not saying email is as bad for your health as some very addictive substances and I’m not using the analogy in order to belittle the plight of those who are addicted to them. I use it to demonstrate a point. There are parallels in email use to addictive behaviours and the results are not good, for you or your business. And like most (if not all) addictions, beating it starts with accepting that there is a problem.

So let’s try out a few things that could potentially be accepted!..

  • Accept that email has all kinds of inherent problems that you know are driving you just a little off the rails.. that there’s too much of it. That your organisation actually employs people to manage it on your, or others’ behalf. That you don’t always get a response. That you spend an inordinate amount of time processing it.
  • Accept that it interrupts your day and demands your attention when you’d rather be doing Something Else. When it would be better and more productive for you to be doing Something Else. And that sometimes you feel like you never get to the Something Else because you’re too busy managing your Inbox.
  • Accept that in some way, email is a crutch for you. As your Inbox fills up it somehow influences you and tells you what to do and when to do it… and this sometimes feels nice. There’s some enjoyment in the methodical process of keeping your inbox organised; reading, filing, deleting, forwarding, replying, flagging, task creation… and again, and again and again. The structure of the process is like a comfy chair. It keeps you nice and secure. You know exactly what you’re doing with email – its management requires adherance to a strict set of rules, cultural practices and norms which everybody appears to play by. Work happens.
  • Accept also, that there are other ways to get work done, which might actually be better for you and your organisation, if only you could tip the balance…

There. That wasn’t so hard. So, if you feel comfortable enough, why not try on these acceptances for size!…

  • Accept that when you get back from holiday, you secretly enjoy bragging about how many emails you received while you were away. In fact, a day catching up on emails is far easier than talking to anyone or doing any real work. You kinda like the fact you don’t have to ‘think’ too hard on your first day back.
  • Accept that email is a perfect way to keep secrets from others and you like to use this to keep certain people in their place by BCC-ing some and not others and CC-ing others and not some, and putting a few special people in the ‘To’ field and hundreds (if not thousands) of your colleagues in a field somewhere far, far away, because they’re not included at all; because they weren’t important enough to receive the information in this beautifully crafted email you’re sending.
  • Accept that email is a perfect way for you to play out your insecurities; because it would not be right if there was no audit trail of the conversation you just had. Because you don’t trust that people will do what you asked and you don’t trust yourself to remember what was said. And, like I nearly dared to say, you are an insecure human being.
  • Accept that you delegate tasks by email and that this probably doesn’t work that well. No one ever trained you to delegate by email – but you do it all the time, because if you do it buys you more time; because hot damn you can do without actually progressing that piece of work ‘today‘ (and you know the recipient is on leave and this issue will park just fine until they get back).
  • Accept that you really really enjoy putting a long technical explanatory email together that you’re going to have to send to a lot of people and that you often think this is the best way to communicate your idea or plan to more than five people rather than phone them individually or set up a meeting, cause they’re expensive time wasting methods… right?
  • Accept that you don’t actually want to speak to the other people because sometimes you’re a bit of an introvert and email feels easier to get your thoughts down than shooting from the hip in a phone or face to face conversation.

Phew. I feel quite exhausted.

Of course, I’m not really talking about you. These are all things which I accepted for myself. Perhaps some will ring true for you, perhaps not (I’d be interested to know!). Either way, chances are if you got this far in this post, then something has sparked your interest.

Something has got you to the end of this without giving up and that’s because you know there’s something rotten in the state of our communication.

And the only person who can do anything about it – is YOU!

How To Find Fulfilling Work

Someone prompted me to remember this little quote today:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both. Lawrence Pearsall Jacks; “Education Through Recreation” 1932

It evokes something of what I aspire to and sometimes experience. I originally found it in the book “How To Find Fulfilling Work” by Roman Krznaric. It’s a bloody good read and has some really interesting methods and exercises to help you work through the process of finding… well, the title says it.

Come to think of it, I might well need to read it again!

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#NoEmail: Revelation and Revolution

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A normal day at work?

Just a few weeks ago, I started my day at work in the usual ritualistic autopilot kind of headspace (put lunch in fridge, found workstation, put snacks in strategic easy-reach locations, filled water bottle, plugged phones in to charge…) and settled into the familiar hum of the computer firing up; clucking and whirring as I tried to remember which password was going to let me into the network. And relax…

Then, something phenomenal happened… I opened Microsoft Outlook.

…OK, I admit it, there’s absolutely nothing phenomenal about opening Outlook – it’s what I found in Outlook that was so mind shatteringly illogical.

I found nothing. Zilch. Inbox Zero. The Holy Grail of the modern office worker.

So, the super-astute among you will have worked out that of course I knew I had an empty inbox the last time I logged out (ta da!) but I guess the interesting thing is that I’d spent some time out of the office and had also managed to avoid checking my emails on my phone in the mean time. I’d been expecting at least a few emails to come through – but nothing. Nada.

A fluke? Well, I don’t think so. I’ve been working in an email driven environment for at least 15 years now and these days it’s extremely rare to not receive anything. And besides, I had a strong hunch that my continued state of empty inbox had something to do with the way I’d been working recently. I had been purposefully trying to send less email, and with quite a lot of success. I’d also been researching, practicing and developing my own ‘no-email methods’ to see if I could change the way I worked and influence how others communicated with me.

And blow me down, it seemed to be having an effect!

dilbert-email-love-comic

Discovering the #NoEmail movement

To get an idea of my journey we have to go a little way back. I’ve talked about my sickening realisation that email was bad for me in this post, so I’ll try to fill in the gaps from there…

My journey toward a life with less email was triggered by meeting a gent called Luis Suarez online (no not that one). Luis introduced me to a whole bunch of people who are trying to or who have succeeded in stopping using email altogether. I mean, I found this quite bonkers!

For a long time I’d felt like email was the wrong tool for the job in most cases where it was being used. But I felt stuck for solutions and any kind of inspiration. Even the Yammer network in our organisation was grossly underused so I had felt very sceptical about the value and possibilities of Enterprise Social Networks (ESN)…

But here was Luis telling me he’d been e-mail free for over 7 years, some companies had been email free for even longer and, well – lots of people were doing it. Either shouting about it or keeping it relatively quiet. But there were people out there who thought the same way I did – that email was inherently something of a broken system.

But how could there be any other way but email? How had these people done it?

A brave new world

I’d spent a few months just wallowing in the normality of email, devoid of any solutions or answers. I’d gone into denial and basically decided it was alright – “nothing to see here” just get on with the work and keep punching out those endless Reply, Reply All, Trash, File functions of my daily life at work. Yes, I’d moved into a different role in my organisation and I was certainly receiving and sending less email than I had been in my previous job anyway… surely this was OK right? Wrong.

If you want to become a swimming coach, you have to get in the water [Paul Jones]

After a few days of hanging out online with these awesome folks from all around the world who seemed to have cracked it (or at least were on their way), it came to me in a flash. I actually had to do something. I had to change the way I worked.

I can’t stress this enough – I really felt it hit me: I was the master of my own destiny – if I wanted to change the way I communicated to something better, I had to get off my backside and do it. What on earth had I been doing? What was I waiting for?

  • Would I get fired for behaving differently? Unlikely.
  • Would I be ostracised for trying to quit email? Possibly.
  • Would this be… fun? Definitely.

I found a wealth of information, tricks, tips, articles and support through this network of people and I was inspired that there was another way, a better way, to manage work communication. I set about trying new methods and techniques for reducing the amount of Email I received and key to this was reducing how much I sent.

I discovered, through trying out the ideas they suggested, that #NoEmail methods can be applied – and the results have been more rewarding than I could have imagined. I’m not just talking about occasionally finding myself with an empty inbox (which is nice), but discovering that my interactions are more meaningful, that I’m completing work quicker and I believe the quality of my work to have improved.

I’ve also got more time to think. Remember that? Time to think?…

Yes. You remember.

There is a way of working that is more networked and collaborative and better for people – a way of communicating that in some way re-humanises the work we do – blasted out of our inboxes and into the sphere of creative conversation.

Sounds good?

It is.

In my next post I’ll be talking about my journey Getting Started with #NoEmail – some of the very simple tips and methods I’ve used (with credit to those that have gone before me!) in getting out of my inbox…   

The sickening realisation that email was bad for me

10

Little Beginnings

I think the first thing I saw that inspired me to start thinking differently about #email was this cartoon from the most marvellous The Oatmeal. And this one does a pretty good follow up of the subject as well.

These brilliant comic strips got me thinking how much time and energy I’d put in (and not just at work) to managing my inbox. Not too long back (2012-2014) I had a pretty senior position in the public sector (well, by my standards anyway – responsible for a workforce around 180 people running social care services). It was the kind of role where I received a LOT of instructions via email from people more senior than me. And as a fall out from this I found myself sending more and more emails as a way of delegating work.

Gut Reaction

I knew it was wrong. I could feel it in my bones and in my gut. But I carried on doing it. I could spend a whole day just managing my inbox – replying, drafting, deleting, filing, flagging, creating follow up deadlines, forwarding, re-composing, collating, grouping… PROCESSING! It drove me mad.

I also knew it was driving my team mad. I was responsible for managing 5 managers who in turn managed service areas. They were so pissed off with me. They were an exceptionally good team who I had a lot of respect for. They made occasional guarded and polite comments about the amount of email I was sending them. But they were never overtly critical. To be fair, I think they just ignored a lot of it. They had better things to do.

And this bugged me – it really bugged me. Because I agreed with them – I agreed that they DID have better things to do. And that raised the question with me – why didn’t I have anything better to do? What was I doing? I mean sure I was doing some important pieces of work and some of that was via email (or at least the communications around the work were); but the email itself? What was that all about? The email was not the work – or at least it shouldn’t have been. One of the people I managed said this to me one day and it really stuck with me:

E-mail was supposed to help us DO the work… help us get through administrative tasks faster so that we could get on with the important work more quickly. It was supposed to give us more time. But it didn’t. It’s taken all our time. Now email IS the work.

Pondering Change

I mused on this for a few months. I was resolved to start working differently… just as soon as I could clear my inbox.

I started obsessing about how many emails I was receiving. I considered it a bad day if it exceeded 100 received (including automatic notification emails such as calendar invite acceptances and Out Of Office notifications). I think the top number I counted was 120 one day. On average I’d receive between 30 and 60 a day, generally building up to a toxic level at 4pm on a Friday and continuing throughout Mondays. I was also sending about 50% of the number I was receiving. I had no PA support and I’m a bit of a hoarder, so I was doing a lot of thinking about where each email should go – did I need to keep hold of it? yes, generally! So I had a marvellously complex filing system for all this traffic (not trusting the search functions of my email client!). The whole thing was an industry – one long never ending manufacturing conveyor belt.

Möbius_strip

I was also pretty convinced, that even though I’d acknowledged that email was perhaps a bad thing, that it was also important. This may seem contradictory, but what I mean here is that although I had realised e-mail was ‘bad’ (i.e. something was inherently wrong with it as a communication system if I seemed to be spending more than 50% of my time processing it), I had also decided there was no alternative!..

…I’d spent some time one day reviewing my inbox to see if there was stuff in there that was useless or pointless… and I’d come to the devastating conclusion that it was all pretty much essential. There was nothing to be done. These things needed my response. They needed my interpretation. The amount of emails I had received and the people I had received them from were all worthwhile and important.

I was just going to have to deal with it. After all, there were numerous people I knew who received more emails than me (300 a day one said… another said more than that… and there seemed to be people all around who wore their over-capacity Inbox like a badge of honour!). I was just going to have to be much better organised at managing my inbox.

A Glimmer of Hope

It was several months later after a job change and having gone into reclusive denial (all but giving up on the idea that something might be able to be done) that I ran into Luis Suarez on Twitter. Interesting! Who was this guy? I’d noticed a colleague of mine was a connection somehow and made the link, taking a punt on introducing myself. We quickly got into a conversation about email and he pointed me toward this video (now a little old but still great!):

The next thing I knew… well… that’s another post.